Our favourite tips to walk/bike/scooter through winter

The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth gave children a “D” in Active Transportation. In fact, less than 25% of children walk or wheel to school, while a whopping 62% of parents say they drive their kids to class. Heading into winter you may have all but completely written off active transportation, but I’m here to put the brakes on that thought! I spoke with Dr. Richard Larouche, a researcher at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario about his best tips and tricks to get your active transportation on as we head into winter.

Before we get to the good stuff, there are a couple things to clarify and keep in mind

  • Active transportation is defined as using non-motorized travel modes and includes everything from walking or biking, to scootering or running, and everything in between
  • Adopting the “two feet and a heartbeat” mentality to getting around offers many benefits for your health, the environment and the economy and is a great way to incorporate more activity into your regular routine
  • As a ballpark you can assume that 1 km will take you about 10-12 minutes if you are at a brisk pace, and likely closer to 15 minutes as you navigate the slippery slopes of winter. As a personal note, I find that anything less than 5 km is totally doable and often faster than taking public transit. If it’s more than 5 km, I will usually just get off a stop early or park further away to sneak in some activity.

And now, some of Dr. Larouche’s best recommendations to stay active this winter

  • Be prepared. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing” goes the old saying! Wearing multiple layers is the best strategy. The first layer (closest to the body) should keep your skin dry – a polyester shirt will usually do the trick, but cotton will likely get wet and make you colder! The second layer should keep you warm – think wool, fleece or down. Finally, the third layer should protect you from the wind. A “soft shell” jacket will work fine on warmer winter days where you can get quite warm from walking or biking. For the very cold days, a goose down jacket is your best bet. For more details, you can visit this website.
  • Stay safe! Remember that it gets dark early in the winter months – hiding you from motorists and camouflaging slippery sidewalks. To get a grip, you can slip on “shoe spikes” underneath your boots. These handy accessories are sold in most outdoor equipment stores and they are quite unexpansive. For more stability, and to engage your upper body muscle, you can also use hiking poles. Many outdoor jackets are now equipped with reflective stripes which will make you easier to see. Bright and flashing lights are sure to attract the attention of motorists – I even carry one when I take my dog out at night!
  • Challenge your assumptions! Northern European countries have much higher rates of active transportation than Southern European countries– despite the much cooler weather!
  • Talk the talk! To let more people commute safely cycle during the winter, bike and walking paths need to be better maintained! Consider writing a letter to your city councilor, your mayor and/or your local newspaper – it may actually pay off! For example the City of Ottawa now plans to maintain 40 kilometers of multi-used paths throughout the winter.
  • Don’t give up. As I mentioned above, some places are just too far to walk to. This is especially true when you’re fighting a battle with nature. BUT, other destinations such as grocery stores, shops, sport centers and friend’s and relative’s houses may provide great opportunities for to take in the winter wonderland.
  • Get creative! If you use public transit, or drive to work, consider getting off the bus, train or subway one stop earlier, or park in the furthest corner of the lot! Even small bouts of physical activity can yield health benefits and help improve your mood!
  • Be a champion! Volunteer to lead a “walking school bus” in your neighborhood. Walking school buses help minimize parents’ concerns about their child safety en route to school. What’s more, they can help children as well as adult volunteers increase their physical activity levels. This could also be a walking school bus to a nearby sledding hill or park on the weekend.